One who went before

Helen Deiss - Ky Kernel

Helen Deiss, editor, checked The Kentucky Kernel with head pressman Karl Davis in the old printing plant in 1948. (Photo courtesy University of Kentucky)

This photo in my spouse’s University of Kentucky alumni magazine — celebrating the university’s 150th anniversary —  caught my eye. The young woman, Helen Deiss, was the editor of the campus newspaper in 1948, and here she was checking an issue just off the press. She looks younger than a traditional college student, and yet she exudes calm and confidence at a time when women in editorial positions were few.

Helen Deiss Irvin passed away in 2015 at 86, but according to her obituary, she went on to become a reporter for what was then the Lexington Leader, receive a Ph.D. from UK and teach in Transylvania University’s division of humanities. She later attended Harvard Law School and practiced in Washington, DC, until she was 83. Along the way, she authored a book, Women in Kentucky. “She loved animals, books and sports,” the obit reads.

Helen sounds like a lady who sought and found a variety of outlets for her gifts and interests. It wasn’t “just” journalism, teaching, or law … she did them all. Many, if not most, of the women who followed her in journalism would also weave teaching, law, public relations, nursing, occupational therapy, or any number of other disciplines into their working lives. It’s a pluralism that has become a reality of 21st-century life and a time when journalism is struggling to retain the best of what it was and morph into its future self.

The Kentucky Kernel became an independent newspaper in 1971, operating without university funding, and it’s still going today.

But look at young Helen giving that newspaper the once-over in 1948. She knew what she was doing and would find many more ways to do it. So can we.

What can you do for animals?

81sxcc1obelWhen the enormity of a problem makes you want to shrug your shoulders and turn away, that’s the time to break that problem down — into a million oddball pieces if necessary — and find something, however small it may seem, that you can do. Sometimes it’s right in your back yard.

Tracy Stewart’s book, Do Unto Animals: A Friendly Guide to How Animals Live, and How We Can Make Their Lives Better, does this with the savvy of a an animal advocate and former vet tech and with mom-next-door authenticity. The book also does it with Lisel Ashlock’s breathtaking illustrations, some of them simply capturing the natural world and others showing how pigs express sadness, how cats may react to catnip (“whoa, dude!”), and more.

Within these colorful pages, you’ll find everything from practical animal care tips (“Five Ways to Make a Cat Happy”) to recipes for homemade dog biscuits and horse cookies to hard-to-take information about puppy mills and factory farms. At no point in the reading of this book did I find the shaming, blaming, or manipulating that can seep into the most well-meaning literature that aims to benefit animals or the environment as a whole. Parents will find this book especially useful, as there are several activities (such as the “Hurtless Hunt”) families can do together.

So the next time you read or hear something that leaves you feeling overwhelmed with sadness and/or that nothing you can do could possibly help — first of all: Breathe. Then open this book.

 

Five great things about majoring in English

4421990486_37247437fa_bI started college 30 years ago knowing only that I loved books and literature and could write well. Advertising? Public relations? Journalism? Teaching? It all kind of swirled together in an abstract of future career possibilities. Even at 18, I think I also knew that a lot would depend on what job opportunities presented themselves when I finished this four-year marathon . . . and that the future does funny things to your efforts to prepare for it.

Journalism would have been a natural choice, but when I entered Butler University, the journalism department seemed in danger of being eliminated and its students were uneasy. The English department was all stability, warmth, and great books by everyone from Julian of Norwich to the poets and novelists who visited. How could I not major in English?

A liberal arts education was more fashionable back then, but I still got the invariable questions, all some variation of: “What are you going to do with it?” More than one person suggested business as a double major. Or I could at least join a sorority for the connections and a place in the university’s social order. (I did neither.)

What I did was intern for a couple of local publications, help a professor grade freshman writing exercises, and write a bit and edit tons more for the college literary magazine. I got to read and study great literature and practice the art and craft of writing.

Did my career path become clearer as graduation drew closer? Nope. Life kept happening. And, what do you know, that’s the nature of literature — and perhaps, life. We react, respond, and try to make sense of the world as it turns and shifts. Some of us write about it, or we study how other people write about it and what that means and why, and if we confuse the daylights out of everyone by the time we’re done, so much the better. (Just kidding. Mostly.)

Whether you are thinking about majoring in English or did so decades ago, here are five great things about it. These are based on my experience and observation; academic advisors, parents, and other advice-givers may say otherwise. As always, individual results may vary.

1. It’s highly flexible and applicable. The communication and critical thinking skills you will develop by majoring in English will benefit you in all kinds of work environments. Internships can give you valuable experience in specific areas such as teaching and journalism. If you find you can’t stand a particular line of work, you have plenty of other options without changing your major.

2. It works as a single or double. You can combine an English major with a major or minor in another discipline. For example: Double major in English and engineering (and have fun moving between those two worlds) and become a technical writer who can actually explain mechanical stuff to English majors.

3. It puts the ball in your court. What you do with an English major and how it pays off — whatever that might mean — is really up to you. There is no prescribed career path for a student majoring in English; you are free to create your own. Some paths are more financially rewarding than others. Some are more suited to your gifts, talents, and life circumstances than others. So you get to start by applying your critical thinking skills and creativity to your own life.

4. It allows you to see through eyes very different from your own. You will read books, poems, essays, and plays by writers from throughout history, all over the world, and many walks of life. Read the ancient Greek poets and see how a civilization comes together. Read Alice Walker and learn about resilience in the face of racism and male domination. Read Mark Twain and learn how a person takes the world’s woes and incongruities — but not necessarily himself — seriously.

5. It’s an important work in progress. Piecing together your classes, extracurriculars, internships, and whatever else your college years bring is a great introduction to piecing together your life. Studying literature and learning to form and express your own ideas is not a bad way to tell, and live, your own story.

Blessings on the journey.